Forum, October 2018

Announcing the 2018-2019 Student Voices Project

The sixth annual Friends Journal Student Voices Project is calling all middle school (grades 6–8) and high school (grades 9–12) students to add their voices to the Friends Journal community of readers. This year we’re asking students to write about the role of competition in their lives.

We welcome submissions from all students (Quaker and non-Quaker) at Friends schools and Quaker students in other educational venues. Select pieces will be published in the May 2019 issue, and honorees will be recognized by Friends Council on Education. The submission deadline is February 11, 2019. Instructions and details can be found at

Upcoming Themes

Eds: We’re always looking for new perspectives on the Quaker experience. You can find out more about writing for us at Upcoming themed issues include Outside the Meetinghouse (due 12/10/2018), Humor in Religion (due 1/7/2019), and Friendly Competition? (due 2/11/2019).

The next issue of Friends Journal will include a new list of themes running through 2020. If you would like to be on a very low-volume email list for upcoming themes, contact senior editor Martin Kelley at We’re especially interested in signing up well-networked Friends who can forward theme ideas to potential writers who may be off our radar. Thank you for your help.

Quaker creativity

As a new subscriber who is going through the clearness process to (hopefully) become a member of Winthrop Center (Maine) Meeting, I really enjoyed your June/July issue on Creativity and the Arts. I’m offering a workshop this summer on ethical wills and initially was planning to briefly mention that in addition to writing an ethical will, one can also produce artistic creations (visual arts, music, dance, etc). After reading your wonderful issue, I re-named the workshop “Creating an Ethical Will” and will encourage participants to consider artistic expressions as well as written statements. Thanks!

Tim Wernette
Readfield, Maine

The term “artist” is often used narrowly to refer only to visual arts. Auditory arts are important too: for example, poetry, storytelling, instrumental music, and song.

During my career as a speech-language pathologist, I was fascinated by studies that compared how the brain processes language to how the brain processes music. For right-handed people who are not well-versed in music, language and music tend to be processed in different hemispheres of the brain. However, there is evidence from brain imagery and electroencephalogram studies that the brains of trained right-handed musicians process music in the same brain hemisphere that they process language—usually the left hemisphere.

Music becomes a language for accomplished musicians, as far as the brain is concerned.

Brian Humphrey
Wilton Manors, Fla.

First deep, then wide

I so appreciate Lloyd Lee Wilson’s words (“Committing to the Quaker Spiritual Path”, July). I had the privilege once of hearing Elie Wiesel speak to college students. One student asked him how to get involved in interfaith dialogue. Elie asked the student, “What is your faith tradition?” When the student answered that they were Quaker, Wiesel said something like, “First, go deep into your own Quaker tradition. Only after that can you begin to work more widely.”

Deborah Suess
Greensboro, N.C.

There is much truth in what this speaker says, and also a caution.

Truth: one must understand a religious tradition before one can benefit from it. The Quaker community is a gift that can help us as we grope our way through the darkness toward the Light.

Caution: the search for truth is not other-directed: it is not directed by a priest, or a minister, or a mullah, or a Quaker community. This is not New Age individualism; it is merely a recognition of our existential condition. In the end, the struggle toward the Light is the final responsibility of each of us as Friends. The community can act as a guide, a friend, and a teacher. But what we know, we know experimentally. As members of the larger Quaker community, we have a responsibility to share that experience with the community. Can you imagine Quaker history in America if John Woolman had merely accepted the “wisdom” of his contemporary Quaker community at a time when many American Friends held slaves?

I have been accused of being a “convinced friend.” I am a Friend because I am not convinced of anything. There is no permanent home, no final “truth” that lets us rest. There are only camping places along the journey. And in the end, each pilgrim walks toward the Light on his or her own two feet. Let us be grateful for fellow travelers.

Richard Melecki
Stow, Ohio

I’ve been doing “inter-Quaker” dialogue because my branch of the Quaker tree wasn’t feeding me enough. That required me to climb back deeper along my branch. A few years ago, I was visiting another yearly meeting’s annual sessions, and the bit of vocal ministry that “found an echo in my soul” came from Katherine Jacobson of Ohio Yearly Meeting (may she rest in peace), who simply stated, in her quiet and then-failing voice, “Friends, we must go deeper.” I love this video’s bit of wisdom from our Friend Lloyd Lee, and not just because it agrees with me, but because it challenges me to stay engaged with my own local meeting, loving them and letting them love me, warts and all. So my query is how do we go deeper? What direction will it take us? Where is my work in this?

Julie Peyton
Portland, Ore.

Best welcomes for newcomers

As a longtime congregational consultant (my life before becoming a staff person at Friends General Conference), my opinion is that Donald W. McCormick’s article “What People Really Want from Church and Quaker Meeting” (FJ Aug.) is based on a study that is not very applicable, especially for non-Evangelical Friends. The Reveal study is based out of Willow Creek, a megachurch that found it wasn’t doing a good job retaining members or helping them move into meaningful spiritual experiences. I know some of the people who work on the Reveal for Church team. They’re good and smart folks, but their information isn’t especially relevant for Friends’ smaller congregations.

For years, when I was at the Center for Congregations in Indianapolis, I served on some working groups for effective outreach and welcome, based on research from the U.S. Congregational Life Survey. (You can check out the ten strengths of vital congregations at Another group I worked with, Faith Communities Today,, also has some downloadable resources for leaders that Friends might find helpful, if we can get beyond “Quaker exceptionalism” and learn from others.) The U.S. Congregational Life and materials are based on hard data covering a range of denominations and churches, including some Quaker ones.

Brent Bill
Mooresville, Ind.

The articles about the future of Quakerism in February and August issues of  Friends Journal are thoughtful and compelling. They beckon all of us to do the hard work of self-examination, individually and in our meetings. What will help me to absorb these fine articles is to look at the behavior of previous Quakers: the boldness of George Fox who walked into and questioned the veracity of whole churches, the guerilla theater of Benjamin Lay who called out Quaker slaveholders, the unstoppable insistence of Elizabeth Fry who demanded prison reform, and the incredulous sense of experimentation in the spirituality of James Nayler.

We offer in our mysticism a special worship: silent one-to-one encounters with our Creator. Silence is also important in how we do our business. However, silence is not the only thing we do. It never has been. We are bold. We can confront. We are insistent and demanding. And we are not afraid to look beyond convention.

Dan O’Keefe
Shorewood, Wisc.

As I am a non-Quaker, you might ask why I haven’t joined. Well, first of all, I’m not sure I measure up, not sure of what is expected of me. One thing every person who is contemplating a new direction is looking for is certainty: certainty that they will fit in, that they won’t offend anyone, and that they are following the structure expected. This is especially true when it comes to exploring new churches and spirituality.

Without asking your membership to change their worship style and meetings, maybe you could add an activity that is available at all the Quaker meetings, one that is more geared to fellowship. It could be a place and time to connect with strangers, and a place to be safe. Folks like me might be willing to travel a little further if we really knew we might be welcomed.

Julie Scott
Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

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